Book Reviews

So many books (you know the rest)

Our Mutual Friend
by Charles Dickens
Published in 1865 (I finished it on December 02, 2009)

Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens 1865

Well, months later I’ve finished with what I’ve started. Our Mutual Friend has been completed.

I recently picked this book because of a very strong recommendation. Now, for starters, I like reading any Dickens novel, though some are certainly longer and not as exciting as perhaps others. Given that, they’re all great works.

The recommendation to read this actually came from an episode of LOST. One of the characters had a copy of the novel and intended to read it as the last thing he ever did in life. He proclaimed that it was Dickens’s best work and so forth. Certainly, I know it’s a fictional character on a fictional show, but I figured if the writers chose that book for whatever reason, then I should investigate why. I mean, would they have picked a lousy novel to glorify as one’s last literary quest in life?

I went to a bookstore to pick up the book. Well I tried to. It seems the bookstore (Borders) didn’t carry that particular Dickens novel. No problem.  I went to another bookstore and they had just one copy of it. For some reason, not a lot of people carry it. 

Nevertheless, I possessed a copy and was anxious to start. I dived in. It opens well, but gets complicated pretty fast. Our Mutual Friend was the last complete that Dickens wrote. In many ways, it is his most advanced work, yet it’s also difficult to read. Sometimes, it’s tough to tell what supposed to be taken literally, and what’s just creative wordplay.

Still, the question remains: Is it Dickens’s best novel? Hmmm. It’s really hard to say. It doesn’t have the same gripping plot as Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities. However, it still has some wonderful and terrific features. The characters are very well done and quite interesting. There are people that should be good, and yet, they’re bad. And vice versa. And the plot is good, with surprises here and there and some rather shocking events. I’d say I was at about page 300 when things really got going. That’s when I started to look forward to reading it.

Of course it does have Dickens’s usual commentaries on society, but a few really come to mind. He definitely focuses on how money changes people, which is sometimes sad to see—especially when it happens to good people in general.

There are also some striking acts of kindness that had me completely moved, such as when a little boy gives away his only possession in the world to another orphan. For those who have read Oliver Twist, there’s a complete antithesis of Fagan in this story (Riah). It appears that Dickens goes out of his way to portray a good Jewish person, and there’s even some didactic text stating how one person doesn’t represent an entire race of people or division of society. It turns out that this was intentional, resulting from some flak the author got for his portrayal of Fagan. I guess he was trying to undo some of the damage and make nice with some of the critics. Very well. Why not please the masses?

Another timeless comment was about how people don’t live within their means. In fact, they even use that exact phrase (“living within one’s means”). Turns out it’s been around a long time. A couple was spending way more than they made and not saving properly. When they got into hard times, the other folks in society were simply shocked that these people have been had let themselves get in such a disaster. Funny how things don’t change much.

There’s also a strong commentary on how too many people foolishly try to please fashionable society and how even folks within fashionable society can’t even seem to please each other. It’s just a futile quest. Why bother?

So there you have it. There are many great things about OMF.  Do I recommend it? Actually I do. It contains some prose that’s just amazing, for lack of a better word. There are passages so descriptive and beautiful, that it would make any writer envious to see how masterfully crafted written work can be. It’s also got some great reminders about enjoying the simple things. Granted, money is nice to have, but as the saying goes, it doesn’t buy happiness.

Be that as it may, should this novel be the last one you read before departing in life? Hmmm…well, I suppose it’s not a bad one to go out on.